Senators grill VA's CIO nominee

President Barack Obama’s nominee for chief information officer of the Veterans Affairs Department got sharp questioning today by members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee who wanted to know how he would stop the agency’s public string of information technology failures.

Under questioning, Roger Baker, nominee for VA assistant secretary for information and technology and CIO, told the panel the first step toward solving what he called VA’s large-scale management problem would be “to address the issues with failed programs and the environment that allows them to continue for 10 years before being identified as failed programs.”

When Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) asked about the agency’s failed patient scheduling system, Baker took it as an example of his point.

“My view is that a lot of the issue with patient scheduling and other failures is an environmental one of not dealing honestly with the fact that you are failing,” he said. “The program certainly showed evidence of having problems well before the 10-year mark. It is important to accept those problems and deal honestly with them and, if necessary, admit that you are failing and that substantial correction is necessary.”

Baker pointed to efforts the agency has already made that could contribute to solving the problems, including IT consolidation and a renewed emphasis on delivering operational services. He also said that as CIO, he would examine contractors’ efforts “to make certain that we’re getting the real benefit of the work they do and in a timely fashion.”

Baker also praised VA’s nascent record-sharing effort with the Defense Department and pledged to keep pressure on the effort. “A lot of work needs to be done to make certain that that information comes to the VA in a usable form,” he said. “It’s one thing to receive the information. It’s another to be able to use it.”

Although he has spent most of his career in the private sector, Baker served as the Commerce Department’s CIO from 1991 to 2001.

He has long advocated making federal CIOs politically appointed rather than career positions, which he says would give them more influence over the budget and IT-related operating decisions.

When he was reminded after the hearing of those statements eight years ago, Baker replied, “Kind of got my wish here, didn’t I? Let’s see, I’m political. The VA CIO has the IT budget and clearly the influence and control over operations. It’s the way it looks in the private sector.”

Concerning VA's failures, Baker said, “There are two keys to that. One is stop them from happening. That would be nice. The second is communicate. I like discussing the issue I’m having to see if anybody has any thoughts on how to deal with it. But I also recognize that I am now a part of the political team.”

“This is an opportunity to show that this is the way IT ought to be run, and government can make substantial changes and substantial improvements,” he added. “If we achieve the goal that I set out in my testimony today, which is to become the best IT organization in government, I think that’ll help a lot of other CIOs in what they’re trying to accomplish as well.”

The committee members also questioned William Gunn, nominee for general counsel at VA; Jose Riojas, nominated to become VA’s assistant secretary for operations security and preparedness; and John Sepulveda, Obama’s pick for assistant secretary for human resources at VA.

Akaka said the confirmation of all four nominees is almost certain but did not say when the vote would take place.

About the Author

Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group